BITS work on pressure not pain. Bits affect seven pressure points on the head: poll, roof of mouth, nose, tongue, bars, chin groove, corners of lips. Each pressure point has a specific effect: flexion or yielding. Bits can distribute pressure, amplify pressure, and range in leverage. Therefore it is important to consider if you have the best bit for the job at hand.
The bit should have 1/4" on each side between corners of the mouth and the ring to prevent pinching.
Bits are training tools so it's good to contemplate your goals and find a bit to suit your needs. In dressage, we begin with the snaffle and graduate to the curb.
Three Classifications: We have all these bits. Feel free to all us at 800-560-4485.
Snaffles: A direct pressure, non leverage bit consisting of two rings and a mouthpiece. Snaffles offer various rings and mouthpieces.
- Loose Ring: Bit rotates freely on loose ring, allowing the horse to relax his jaw, chew the bit and produce saliva. All good signs of bit acceptance.
- Eggbutt: Rounded rings eliminate possible pinching caused by loose rings. A more stable bit in the mouth but rotates less, less maneuverable in the mouth.
- Dee-Ring: Rings 'D' Shaped have a more guiding effect on turning the horse.
- Full Cheek: Great pony bits because long cheeks aid turning and bit is less likely to pull through into mouth. Keepers fix cheeks upright to cheekpiece to prevent them from catching on things. Keepers also fix the bit and concentrate pressure on bars and tongue.
Mouthpieces: Usually stainless steel. Choose rubber for a softer bit, but rubber can dry the horse's mouth and make the horse less comfortable. Newer versions of the rubber bit are the Happy Mouth or flexi-flavor bits that eliminate this drying effect. A soft-metal choice is copper which encourages salivation and therefore greater relaxation.
- Single jointed: Mild pressure acts on tongue, lips and bars with "nutcracker" action. Pull on rings pulls back to pinch on bars and point bit to a "v" into roof of mouth. A thicker bit can spread pressure but if the horse has a low palette, it can be more intense.
- Double Jointed: Flat link reduces pinching caused by "nutcracker" and applies more pressure on the tongue. The link allows the bit more flexibility so it makes it milder and encourages relaxation. Without the edge, the oval link reduces pressure on tongue but still offers flexibility.
- Mullen Mouth: Unjointed mouthpiece that places pressure on tongue and bars. Some horses lean on the solid mouthpiece. Can be good for a horse needing to accept the bit. Can be a lot if leaning on forehand.
- Rollers: Encourage chewing, activation of tongue and relaxation of jaw.
- Slow Twist: Edges on twist create a more severe pressure.
List of Legal bits for dressage can be found at: https://www.usef.org/forms-pubs/PiZ5Mms1FY8/usef-rulebook
Leverage Bits: Multiply the pressure to the mouth. A curb or Pelham bit sits lower in the horses mouth: There should be no wrinkles at the corners. A severe bit requiring a light contact. Without enough release jumping, a severe bit such as pelhams and gags, can inhibit a horses jump, and the horse can hit fences behind.
Shanks: Form the lever of this bit. The longer the shank, the more severe the effect. The ring on the lower end of the shank applies the pressure on the curb groove. There will be less pressure on the mouth but more on the poll. The curb rein can rotate the bit 45 degrees and will tighten the curb chain.
Curb Bits: Act on the lower jaw. As does the curb chain. The curb chain should have two fingers width between the chain and the curb groove (indentation above lower lip). Sometimes the curb chain is run through the rings of the bit to make it more secure but this inhibits the movement of the bit rings. It should be secured with a lip strap to keep the horse from interfering with chain or shanks. Generally the curb rein is carried with a lighter contact and the snaffle is more used. More advised to use double reins than the converter which enacts both snaffle and curb simultaneously which detracts from the point of having a point with a distinction of uses.
Mouthpiece: Can be mullen, raised port, or linked. A port offers tongue relief and the higher port, the greater the pressure on the roof of the mouth and also the greater the fulcrum putting pressure on the bars
Gag: The gag action uses more leverage to control speed and the effect is not only slowing but raises the horses head. Best used with two reins. The most severe. Like a Pelham, when over-relied upon to slow the horse down, a gag bit can affect the horse's jump, preventing the horse from jumping "through" and dropping hind legs early.
Jointed Gag: Gag cheekpieces run through the rings of the bit putting pressure on the poll when the reins are used.
Elevator Bit: Snaffle mouthpiece and shanks or rings more like the curb shanks that increase leverage.
Dutch Gag: More rings, standard mouthpiece. Dutch Gag uses rein pressure to lift mouthpiece upward
Myler Bits: Designed with a fixed link to allow some hinge at the center of the bit but prevent the nutcracker effect but allows twisting of the bit. Also contoured mouthpiece to allow tongue relief for comfort and better breathing. And the mouthpiece has small copper bars to promote salivating for a softer mouth. Myler designs bits for different levels and several at each level. Each traditional snaffle as a Myler counterpart.
Hackamore: No bit but work on the horse's nose, chin and muzzle. Permitted in show jumping and cross-country. The noseband rests on or slightly above the point where the nasal bone ends and the cartilage begins. If too low, it irritates nostrils and muzzle and may cause head-tossing. Used with or without shanks. The shanks apply more leverage, similar to curb, but apply pressure to nose and curb groove but not to the mouth. Like curbs, they encourage flexion at poll, but not as effective for turning. A pull on the reins will direct shank into side of the horse's face.